Stanford University professor Maryam Mirzakhami, who recently came to my attention through her obituary, is the first and only woman to date to win the Fields Medal in Mathematics. She brings to my mind other women who were the first to win prestigious prizes and awards. Some of these firsts have occurred only recently. Match the woman with her accomplishment:
_____ 1. The first African-American to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
_____ 2. The first black woman of any nationality to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
_____ 3. In 2010, 80 years after the first Oscars were awarded, she became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director.
_____ 4. The first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics.
_____ 5. The first American woman to receive a Nobel Prize in the sciences.
A. Gerty Cori
B. Gwendolyn Brooks
C. Toni Morrison
D. Elinor Ostrom
E. Kathryn Bigelow
In 1947, when biochemist Gerty Cori received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, she became the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences and the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Today, what is known as the Cori cycle (named after Gerty and her husband Carl) describes the metabolism of carbohydrates and is important to the understanding of diabetes. Her research on enzymes led to her being the first to demonstrate that a defect in an enzyme could be the cause of a human genetic disease. Cori experienced much discrimination during her career but achieved in spite of that discrimination and received many honors. In addition to being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, features on the Moon and Venus have been named for her.
Author, poet and teacher Gwendolyn Brooks began writing at an early age, encouraged to do so by her mother. Her first poem was published when she was 13 and by 16, she had already published 75 poems. Much of her work reflected her life experiences in the inner city of Chicago. Her first book of poetry was published in 1945. In 1950, when she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, she became the first African-American to receive that honor. Appointed to a position that is now called the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Brooks has also been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
The first black woman of any nationality to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison’s citation reads “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Morrison has written novels, plays and operas, many dealing with the black experience in America. Earlier in her career, Morrison worked in the publishing business and ensured that works by black authors were published. Her 1977 book Song of Solomon brought her national attention. Beloved, her most celebrated novel and a bestseller, was published in 1987, received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was made into a film starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Morrison spent many years on the faculty at Princeton University and has received multiple honorary degrees.
The first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics, Elinor Ostrom’s citation reads for “her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons.” She received her Ph.D. in political science, unable to pursue economics as she had been denied admission to trigonometry. During her years at Indiana University and Arizona State University, Ostrom focused on issues related to collective action, trust and cooperative use in the management of common pool resources which include forests, parks, fisheries, grazing land and irrigation systems. Her later work involved human interaction with ecosystems. There is even a law named for her; Ostrom’s law reads “A resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory.” Ostrom’s many honors in addition to the Nobel Prize include election to the National Academy of Sciences.
In 2010, eighty years after the first Oscars were awarded, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. A director, producer and writer, Bigelow won the award for The Hurt Locker. Originally educated as a painter, Bigelow received her Bachelors in Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1972. Her master’s degree in film was earned at Columbia University. Her first full-length feature was released in 1982. Bieglow’s mainstream films are generally characterized as action films. Her latest film for which she directed and produced, Detroit, is currently playing in theatres. She said “There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.”
Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These women who achieved “firsts” are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and write women back into history. I stand on their shoulders.
(Answers: 1-B, 2-C, 3-E, 4-D, 5-A)